Bonner Bridge lawsuit will go on despite political pressure

Posted December 6, 2013

— The Southern Environmental Law Center sent a highly critical letter Friday to Gov. Pat McCrory, refusing to drop a lawsuit blocking the state's planned replacement for Bonner Bridge.

The letter from SELC Director Derb Carter expresses "concern and sympathy" for Hatteras Island residents who have experienced "significant hardships" because of the state Department of Transportation's decision Tuesday to close the bridge, a move Carter describes as "abrupt" and "without any warning."

"Our first hope is to see the bridge reopened as quickly as possible," he says.   

But Carter then turns to criticism of McCrory's handling of the issue.

"We find it disingenuous and irresponsible that you have chosen to aggressively, publicly and inaccurately blame environmental organizations for this bridge closure," Carter writes. "As a result of your urging, we have been at the receiving end of multiple threats based on misinformation you have provided."

In a local radio interview Tuesday, McCrory blamed SELC for the bridge impasse, urging people to call the "left-wing group" in Chapel Hill: "I need public support to put pressure on that group to get out of the way and let us do a commonsense, needed bridge.

"They're holding back some safety needs," McCrory said in that interview. "They're putting people in jeopardy, and they're putting jobs in jeopardy." 

The DOT two years ago awarded a contract for construction of a $216 million bridge that would parallel Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet but would be designed to better withstand the underwater erosion, or scour, that made Bonner Bridge vulnerable to collapse and prompted this week's emergency closure.

Lawsuits by the SELC and other groups have prevented any work from taking place, and they have appealed a federal judge's September ruling in favor of the new bridge. The groups say a 17-mile span that bypasses the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a better long-term option, noting that N.C. Highway 12 in the fragile preserve frequently washes out in storms.

Oregon Inlet, Bonner Bridge McCrory, environmental group trade barbs over coastal bridge

In Friday's letter, Carter argues that the DOT and Dare County officials, not SELC, are responsible for the delay in building a new bridge because their plans violate federal environmental law.

"We encourage you to provide the leadership required to resolve the closure as quickly as possible and to focus on developing a long-term solution to replace Bonner Bridge that ensures safe and dependable transportation to Hatteras Island," Carter writes to McCrory. 

"When NCDOT acts contrary to the law, we will continue to seek compliance through the courts," he writes. "We are disappointed you did not contact us directly before launching your public assault on our clients, our supporters and our organizations."

Other Republican leaders have echoed McCrory's political accusations and have called for the group to drop the lawsuit.

"The Southern Environmental Law Center’s frivolous lawsuit is only the latest episode in their scheme to agitate the left and raise funds for an extreme, fringe agenda – this time, at the expense of northeastern North Carolina’s economy," House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a joint statement Friday.

"We’d expect no less from liberal elitists from Chapel Hill and Charlottesville (Va.,) who want to turn the Outer Banks into a private nature retreat they can visit on the weekends," the statement said.

Repair work on the bridge was set to begin Saturday, as a dredge starts what officials said could be two days of rearranging sand in the inlet to pile it up around the bridge's support structure. After that, a South Carolina company will use interlocking pieces of concrete and sandbags to reinforce the structure against further scour.

State officials haven't said when the bridge might reopen, and the DOT is running emergency ferries between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe 12 times a day to move people and goods on and off Hatteras Island.


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  • sixnitepkg Dec 13, 2013

    "McCrory blamed SELC for the bridge impasse" - really? Governor, you need a lesson in REALITY - the cause of the scouring under the Bonner bridge is, and can only be, a direct result of dredging! and now we pay to have them pump 30,000 cubic yards of sand from the channel up under the pilings... Hey gov.! guess where that sand CAME FROM! I'll give ya' one guess!

  • hmm3eb Dec 12, 2013

    NCDOT is just desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their own mistakes. They didn’t even file for the permits they needed until last year, and they’re still waiting on some of them. SELC didn’t get involved until 2011. NCDOT’s plan just means more washouts and closures in the future and Hatteras residents will be the ones who end up dealing with the consequences.

  • sixnitepkg Dec 10, 2013

    "...If they stopped dredging we wouldn't need a bridge!"

    my thoughts exactly! why not let Oregon inlet close up like it's been trying to do for the better part of 30 or 40 years - I remember a 2 or 3 times in my 4 yrs stationed on the obx that you could wade the length of the Bonner bridge & not go more than waist deep! Heck of a lot cheaper to let it close up & lay some gravel & asphalt! I mean, in the larger picture Oregon Inlet has been around a short while 1848 compared to Ocracoke inlet - 500+ years in the same location! the only inconvenience would be to a few charter boats and their patrons... ohhhh the agony, a 1 hour longer car ride + 2 or 3 hour longer boat ride to the gulf stream to go out of Hatteras or Ocracoke! boo hoo! (never mind that Ocracoke is far prettier! & more fun too!)

  • bubbaOK Dec 10, 2013

    Face it this debacle speaks volumes about professional workmanship. We ain't got it.

  • dahill001 Dec 10, 2013

    There's no way that they would do an emergency closing of the bridge for political gamemanship,I mean, nothing like thathas never happened before by Republican extremists playing partisan games right?

  • bassomatic4000 Dec 10, 2013

    "a green group won't be happy unless a 17 mile long structure is built? 17 miles of disturbing the environment vs 3 miles of an already standing structure, but SELC likes 17 miles? "
    "a green group won't be happy unless a 17 mile long structure is built? 17 miles of disturbing the environment vs 3 miles of an already standing structure, but SELC likes 17 miles? "

    SELC likes 17 miles at billions of dollars cost because it's something that will never be built but they can express in their smugness "we offered a solution", even though that solution is not feasible.

  • cldd6 Dec 9, 2013

    As a native of Hatteras, family goes back hundreds of years, it blows my mind how nobody on this thread has mentioned the half of billion federal tax dollars that have been spent dredging Oregon inlet ! If they stopped dredging we wouldn't need a bridge! The state of NC has dredged that inlet every year but have told us, the residents of Hatteras island that have not seen one dime spent on beach nourishment in the past 40 years , they are letting nature take its course. So which is it? The residents of Hatteras island are now stranded on a barrier island, medical and safety issues are a first priority but the feeling of isolation and being cut off from jobs, family, is quite overwhelming. I believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion in this country but I also believe that we deserve a safe passage to a hospital and better treatment.

  • AliceBToklas Dec 9, 2013

    "group gathers at a Chapel Hill coffee shoppe sipping some erotic roast of coffee,"

    Everyone likes erotic coffee.

    I have no idea what that might be, but count me in!

  • AliceBToklas Dec 9, 2013

    Just like the 20 plus years it took to get the 70 bypass done cause of a mussel in the creek. Waste of tax payer money. These groups should be outlawed and banned.

    Can we do the same to the groups on the right we might disagree with? (Please say yes)

  • anonymoustip Dec 9, 2013

    Hey guess what- it is not just liberal elitist that make the OBX a nature preserve on the weekends. The whole of the economy out there depends on tourism.